The Payson School Board agonized this week before accepting a recommendation to hire a part-time manager for the high school auditorium.
Board members expressed doubts about the latest plan to add to the district’s payroll, just months after they approved the layoff of two dozen employees — half of them teachers.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien assured the board the district won’t really spend any more money as a result of the shift in how the district pays the person who schedules use of the auditorium and runs the lights and sound system for special events.
O’Brien said the current system relies on paying the auditorium manager a contracted stipend, but that the auditorium has so many scheduled events that the current arrangement threatens to violate state labor laws.
“We’ve increased the demand so much in that facility that it’s no longer appropriate to offer a stipend,” said O’Brien.
“Most people who use the auditorium pay a fee: Will that fee cover this salary?” asked board president Barbara Underwood.
“We want to get this right going forward because the auditorium is generating a lot of activity,” replied O’Brien.
“Wouldn’t it be smarter to monitor this for a year before we add a position?” asked board member Rory Huff.
“Can we contract for this position?” asked board member Kim Pound.
“We would have to get into a procurement situation — and put out bids,” said O’Brien. Besides, state law limits the kinds of services districts can contract for rather than provide through an employee.
“So we can either pay for this position or close the auditorium?” asked board member Matt Van Camp.
O’Brien said the position would not cost much more than the current stipend, but also would avoid potential violations of state labor laws.
With that, the board approved the position on a 5-0 vote, along with a three-page description of the responsibilities that will go with the job.
The extended discussion of a part-time classified position that won’t even come with benefits reflects the board’s sensitivity to the pitter-patter of new hires ever since it approved layoffs last spring. Those layoffs helped close a projected million-dollar deficit and fell hardest on the ranks of classroom teachers. The layoffs resulted in a significant increase in class sizes, especially at the elementary school level where studies show small class sizes yield the greatest benefits.
However, at virtually every meeting since approving the layoffs the board has approved new hires of administrators, teachers and classified staff.
Some of those new hires have added teachers in key areas where the district has a shortage — like math and science. Some have been the result of the need to replace key administrators, like school principals. Some have been to add positions covered by state or federal grants. Some have been in reaction to resignations that came after the administration settled on the layoffs.
However, even qualified teachers and classified staff who did get laid off did not get called back to fill the newly vacant positions, although they could apply for the positions on the same basis as non-district employees.